Courts restore CMDA’s teeth
Walk down many roads of the older parts of Chennai, and chances are you will come across buildings that are in flagrant violation of building norms laid down by the CMDA. Areas like T Nagar have ‘office’ buildings built on the walls of adjacent residential compounds. There are even residential buildings built this way with windows opening on to other people’s property. At the time these were constructed, I am told, when the affected resident’s approached the authorities, they paid a visit to the site, conducted an enquiry, accepted a bribe, and carried on.
More recently, the extent of violations have been even more obvious, with entire floors being added on to commercial and residential complexes beyond approvals obtained. Our culture of ‘adjusting’, ‘taking care of’ the right people, and getting people to look the other way has resulted in building violations becoming some what of a norm. Especially as this became an alternate source of income for many.
The whole idea of having a Metropolitan Development Authority which laid down building norms to ensure that the roads and other infrastructure such as power, water supply and sewerage were not unduly taxed was thus negated. And over time, the CMDA lost its moral authority to take action against offenders because it would open a Pandora’s box of corruption, revealing its extent and, of course, the offenders. With no one left to draw the line and say “Enough is enough!”
Until the judiciary steeped in.
We saw this first in Delhi, with the courts ordering the closure of businesses and shops that were opened in many localities in violation of zoning and building laws. Now we have the Chennai High Court following suit, striking down the CMDA’s ‘Regularisation Scheme’ of 2000 and 2001. So that the authority has had to send notices to the offenders asking them to ensure their premises are in conformity with the clearances they were issued before construction. Failing which, after the prescribed period of time (about a month), the areas in violation will be demolished.
This form of judicial activism is welcome as it is aimed at ensuring a better quality of life for all by forcing civic authorities set up for the purpose to follow their own mandate strictly. Over time, this will also ensure that those who construct new premises, commercial or residential, will not take for granted that they can violate building norms with impunity. While this will be a deterrent, let’s hope for the time when following the CMDA’s building specifications will be the norm, with those in violation forced to correct their plans. Only then can we ensure a city that develops with some form of predictability for the planning of adequate infrastructure at the street and area level. So that Chennai will continue to develop into one of the better cities of the world in terms of being a place to live and work in.